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THE SHOE ISSUE : A PASSION FOR PUMPS : Three designers talk about their obsession with footwear and why no heel is too high for some.

November 15, 2009|Julie Neigher

Here's the cliche: Men slumped over seats in cushy boutiques giving compulsory nods while women shop for shoes. Laden with shopping bags, the sticker-shocked males stumble out of the store, pondering all the other things on which they could have spent their money. Like rent.

But that's the modern cliche. It wasn't always thus. According to the author of "The Essence of Style," Joan DeJean, "The transformation of the shoe industry that made possible the current craze for luxe footwear began during Louis XIV's reign . . . because the Sun King himself was a shoe addict of the first order." He dispensed with boots, relegating them to riding and hunting. "This allowed him to show off, instead, all manner of elaborate pumps . . . as he presided over one of the best-heeled ages of all time," DeJean writes.

So, yes, gents, the next time you shout, "Five hundred dollars for a piece of leather?" remember it was one of your sex that gave the girls Carrie Bradshaw-itis.

Image talked with three of today's hottest shoe designers about that "piece of leather." They tell us how they've interpreted this art form that fascinated even a man who fancied himself as important as the sun.

Jerome C. Rousseau, born in Quebec, launched his label in 2008. You can see his stilettos featured larger than life in a fantasy scene in the upcoming Terry Gilliam film, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus." His shoes are worn by celebs including Cameron Diaz and Kristen Stewart.

Tiffany Tuttle is a Los Angeles native. She began her collection in 2006 after moving to Milan, where she specialized in footwear and pattern-making.

George Esquivel's shoes are handmade in Southern California, which is where he first undertook his craft 15 years ago. He designs for athletes and royalty.

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Why did you decide to go into shoe design?

JR: Shoe design is a combination of many interests of mine, from art to aesthetics, fashion, music and sculpture. I have this mad passion for shoes -- it is somewhat intangible at times. I care about every stitch on my designs, and I find the creative process very rewarding.

TT: As a former dancer, I had spent my life focusing on feet and legs. So shoes were something I really connected with. I love that they are these small three-dimensional objects that have their own shape and life but also can transform the wearer's entire silhouette.

GE: After walking into an apprenticeship for the shoemaker who was making my first designs, over time I fell in love with the whole process. The fact that I was able to work with my hands on my shoes was a very unique and special feeling.

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What is your first shoe memory?

JR: I fell in love with shoes as a teenager, the first time I saw Deee-Lite's video clip for "Groove Is in the Heart." That was a major shoe moment in my life.

TT: My first shoe memory is of these hot pink and white striped satin ballet slippers that I had. I wore them everywhere even though they were definitely not meant to be worn all of the time.

GE: My first shoe memories are of me wanting cool shoes. Growing up I never had the "cool" shoes. They were always the fakes. Then, as I grew a bit older, watching reruns on TV, I would always notice the unique shoes on the shows.

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How would you describe your style?

JR: The detailing is in the cut and the silhouette, always focusing on creating a lean and long leg. My shoes are elegant and edgy without being obvious, and they're always sexy and sensual.

TT: LD Tuttle shoes have a feeling of hard rawness. They are utilitarian and strong, with contrasting moments of femininity.

GE: I would describe my designs as American. It's a mixture of classic, a bit unpolished or imperfect, and rock 'n' roll all mixed into one. Some styles tend to sway more classic and some lean more to the unpolished, but all of my styles, whether it be subtle or a bit more apparent, have an edge to them. That's the rock 'n' roll part of the designs.

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Who is your muse?

JR: Elli Medeiros, from the late-1970s French New Wave band Elli et Jacno. I am obsessed with Elli! Effortlessly sexy, aloof and seductive.

TT: My muses are Patti Smith and Elizabeth I of England.

GE: My muse over the years has always been the same group of people: musicians. When I design, I tend to think of musicians, their style of music, what outfits they would wear with my shoes, would they wear my shoes onstage or offstage?

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How high is too high? (I'm talking heels!)

JR: It depends on who's wearing them. If a woman can walk beautifully in sky-high stilettos, then I think it works perfectly. The best advice is to stick to heights that you can walk with elegantly.

TT: It doesn't matter, as long as you look good moving in them. I can't stand to see a woman walking strangely because her heels are too high.

GE: Nothing is too high as long as the girl is rocking the shoes, and the shoes aren't wearing the girl. When she puts on the sky-high heels, it needs to be a natural thing.

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What makes shoes so important, anyway?

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